Sunday, April 23, 2006


Al Norman, anti-Wal-Mart activist and founder of Sprawl Busters. Questions by editors and by readers of Grist Magazine.

Q. Have you encountered critics who argue that low-income shoppers can't afford not to shop at big-box stores like Wal-Mart? What has been your response? -- Evelyn Goss, Austin, Texas

A. Yes. Wal-Mart has created and perpetuated a low-income cycle of worker/consumer. Something like 30 percent or more of Wal-Mart shoppers have no bank accounts. Wal-Mart's 1.5 million workers have to shop at the company store because they can't afford to shop elsewhere. It's a great closed-loop system, akin to a plantation where the field workers went to the company store with their day's wages. By making small profits on large volumes, Wal-Mart has created great wealth at the top of the chain. Each member of the Walton family is worth about $18 billion. They could afford to pay their workers a decent wage and provide them with health insurance, instead of amassing unimaginable wealth. That's why I say the model is based on greed, not need.

Q. What strategies have been used in the past to encourage Wal-Mart to rethink its plans and either relocate or sell its property to a developer who will enhance the area? -- Dean Brown, Orange, Calif.

A. You cannot "encourage Wal-Mart to rethink its plans." It pays no attention to what the community says it wants. Wal-Mart is driven by what it thinks its stockholders want and what will add value to its stock. But local citizens can reinvent their zoning codes to stop or restrict big-box sprawl. A cap on the footprint size of buildings can be done with one sentence.

While you are at it, read Umbra Fisk's answer to the question "Why is Wal-Mart Evil"? here.

And, read a little something good about Wal-Mart trying to improve it's environmental image here.

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